Making Sense, No. 5
Organisation: The Workers' Party
Publication: Making Sense
Issue:Number 5
December 1988
Contributors: Info
Colm Breathnach, Prionsias Breathnach, Lorraine Kennedy, Gabriel Rosenstock, Fearghal Ross, Brendan Ryan
Type:Publication Issue
View: View Document
Discuss:Comments on this document

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

31st May 2010

This edition of Making Sense, the WP theoretical magazine, dates from December 1988. As such it provides a snapshot of a time of change both within the Workers Party and Soviet Communism. So, despite the image of Stalin on the cover the accompanying article by Dmitry Volkogonov is far from laudatory while pointing to some fundamental issues as regards the position of Stalin within orthodox Communism. Was he aberration, ‘wrong man, but at the right time’, or what? That this article is written by a Soviet insider points to the changes taking place within that state.

Inside there are a variety of articles including one by Proinsias Breathnach on Bórd na Móna which argues that that organisations ‘enterprise-led’ approach is worth considering by the Irish left. Senator Brendan Ryan considers the nature of the Irish Left, Colm Breathnach discusses FMLN in El Salvador. There are a wide range of book reviews, including one Fearhal Ross writing about Gramsci and there is an article by Lorraine Kennedy on the opening of the Lighthouse cinema.

There’s also a most interesting letter from Paddy Woodworth (a member of the party at one time) which asks a number of pertinent questions which point up some contradictory aspects of certain approaches to the conflict on the island during this period, not least:

On the level of ideology, anti-nationalism in Ireland often appears to be anti-green nationalism, since it rarely challenges the adherence of the Orange community to its British nationalism. Something has gone badly wrong with the balance here. If one side can wave its union jacks and poppies, surely the other can wave its tricolours and Easter lilies…

The editorial has a certain contemporary resonance, in this time of ‘reform’. It deals with the Commission on Electoral Boundaries who were given the task of redrawing constituencies and argues that the terms of reference given to the Commission were ‘deliberately designed to distort the proportionality and gerrymander an inbuilt Fianna Fáil majority’. For a small party holding onto an electoral niche such matters are of the utmost importance.

… It can be safely assumed that Fianna Fáil and elements in Fine Gael will not let upon in their efforts to undermine PR (Proportional Representation). By hook or by crook they intend to render it ineffective, and thus copperfasten the right-wing consensus.

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  • By: Ramzi Nohra 1 Tue, 01 Jun 2010 20:56:56

    In reply to LeftAtTheCross.

    although in Ireland Republicanism IS related to nationalism, at least as envisaged by virtually everyone. There were nationalistic elements to the republicanism of Wolfe Tone, for example.

    I would in fact struggle to think of how one could be anti-imperialist or anti-coloniast without any trace of nationalism.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 01 Jun 2010 21:11:11

    In reply to Ramzi Nohra 1.

    Interesting point. Republicanism on this island sees the end goal, sooner or later, as a unitary state. Nationalism too. Sure we say the former is more inclusive and the latter less so, albeit often this is unstated or underdeveloped.

    So in a way I’m intrigued as to what precisely is the distinction – particularly from the perspective of those who fall outside those two camps? And I’m asking that as one who considers himself a Republican Socialist. I know why I’m not an Irish nationalist, but I kind agree with you that it seems a difficult project to detach at least some aspect of nationalism from Republicanism, and it’s not just about a left/right divide. Even if we ascribe ‘sectarianism’ to nationalism, I don’t per se see why that means all nationalism has to be sectarian. Unless we’re talking about very specific nationalisms.

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Wed, 02 Jun 2010 09:05:31

    […] * The Workers Party (WP): Making Sense, Dezember 1988 […]

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  • By: LeftAtTheCross Wed, 02 Jun 2010 09:21:33

    In reply to Ramzi Nohra 1.


    it’s true obviously that on our island Republicanism and Nationalism have been closely related.

    This came up on CLR a month or so ago in a different context (

    In that thread Garibaldy commented “At this point, it’s always worth quoting MacGiolla, who liked to point out that republicans fought nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. Republicanism, from my point of view, has always been an internationalist poltiical philosophy by its very nature.”

    The MacGiolla quote is a good one. I’m not being glib and suggesting that the quote clinches the argument one way or the other, but it does illustrate that republicanism and nationalism don’t necessarily coalesce in all situations.

    I’m not a historian but I’ve read a fair bit about the Balkans and the Jugoslav example, post WWII, seems to me to be a good example of a strongly republican project which set out to build a multi-ethnic state which would rise above the varying nationalisms involved.

    The EU is another example. I posted here after attending a lecture at the Ireland Institute which was discussing the EU and neo-imperialism (

    While I agree that the EU as presently constructed is problematic for the Left, I find “hope” in the internationalist potential of multi-ethnic or supra-national states.

    My point above, in reply to Ghandi, was that the WP can take the relatively easy option of looking backwards to its Republican Socialist tradition, and let’s face it we’ve enough other things to be getting on with in the meantime of course, or we can question some of those long held traditions and as part of that re-examination we release the energy required to build and grow the party in the 21st century.

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  • By: Ramzi Nohra Wed, 02 Jun 2010 09:38:45

    In reply to Ramzi Nohra 1.

    yes both of you make good points.

    Left I do accept that republicanism can transcend nationalism, but if that is fully the case then the party concerned needs to drop the talk about being the inheritor of Tone etc.
    If a party is going to talk about the legacy of Tone et al, then they need to take the stuff about “breaking the connection” seriously, or at least not act against it.

    (of course as you indicate current circumstances need to be born in mind – ie its not a number one priority at the moment)

    Also, as a minor point, I’m not sure if going back to Republican Socialist roots would be easy, I would have thought such a move would lead to a bit of a painful process of examining some of its previous positions (or at least positions held by senior individual members of the party)

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  • By: Garibaldy Wed, 02 Jun 2010 11:39:05

    In reply to Ramzi Nohra 1.

    I think that there is a false dichotomy being set up here – which is that it is impossible to be an internationalist republican and stand in the tradition of Tone. To be honest, I’ve always felt that anyone looking at Tone’s politics, his own actions, and the political context within which he operated both at home and abroad who feels the term ‘nationalist’ is an accurate characterisation of his politics is saying more about their own understanding of politics than that of Tone and the United Irishmen.

    The WP’s position is that separatism and believing in the right of a people to shape its own destiny is not the same as nationalism. It’s not as though this is a new position. In 1975, Des O’Hagan delivered a lecture in Wales on behalf of the Republican Movement entitled ‘The Republican Tradition’. In it, he defined Republicanism as democratic, secular, socialist and internationalist. He drew heavily on Tone to do so. So Ramzi’s position is obviously one that the WP would absolutely and utterly reject.

    This is not to deny that republicanism in Ireland has always attracted nationalists, nor that in the language of times past, the two were not often seen as the same thing, including by many republicans. However, that is not our analysis of what revolutionary republicanism means, and hasn’t been for decades. And, as I’ve said above, there is a real danger of anachronism when we read the words of people from the past and see familiar language. In our view, nationalism and national independence or national liberation are not the same.

    The WP has as its aim the creation of a democratic, secular, socialist Republic on the island of Ireland. It long ago determined that the only way to achieve this – to break the connection – was through the persuasion of the population of NI that this is the best way forward. In sticking to that analysis – which is now accepted by almost everyone in NI who wants a united Ireland – we adhered to republicanism, and to its strategic goals of uniting the people to forge an independent, egalitarian, secular and democratic state. Again, it is quite clear that some within the Party in the past took their aversion to nationalism in a wrong direction. But the Party itself has always had a clear long-term goal outlined in its constitution, and its actions have always been informed by that goal. We have never left the republican tradition, and have instead developed it to reflect the realities of economic as well as political forms of oppression.

    In short, as far as I can see, revolutionary republicanism and socialism are now the same thing, and that has been the position of the Party for decades.

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  • By: yourcousin Wed, 02 Jun 2010 12:46:32

    anyone looking at Tone’s politics, his own actions, and the political context within which he operated both at home and abroad who feels the term ‘nationalist’ is an accurate characterisation of his politics is saying more about their own understanding of politics than that of Tone and the United Irishmen

    I think if we place nationalism in the context of say the French Revolution and the revolutions of 1848 I think Tone could fit nicely into that tradition as a nationalist and republican. Ireland is a bit of anachronism in that these terms still have resonance while the rest of the world moved on to gutting them of their meaning.

    Also you may feel that socialism is now equivalent to revolutionary republicanism, but you still can’t retro-actively go back and claim all republicanism as a socialism as it fits the party’s whim. I mean most socialist governments today would anthemea to the “classic” republicans such as Tone, Paine, Petofi etc. in as much as they disenfranchise the vast body of people in favor of a “new” political elite.

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  • By: Garibaldy Wed, 02 Jun 2010 14:05:50


    I think that the politics of Tone, like those of the French Revolutionaries, were universalist not only in their implications but also in their conceptualisation and actions. Granted, the consequences of the wars was the growth of an aggressive French nationalism, and later imperialism, but I think they regarded the freedom of nations as a collective enterprise, and that the fate of one concerned all. Nationalism by and large lost that concepetion of itself during the C19th.

    As for retroactive fitting of socialism. I would probably have chosen a phrase like socially radical or egalitarian myself, but the point that republicanism both in Ireland and abroad had a strong streak of social radicalism in him from its inception, and especially within the strongest republicans, seems to me to be fairly clearly. While I would accept that it initially was the voice of the bourgeoisie allied to supporters from further down the social scale, I think that is where the point about revolutionary republicans moving with the times comes in to play.

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  • By: yourcousin Wed, 02 Jun 2010 15:20:06

    So then your short answer to my first point is, yes. That Tone could be called a nationalist within the context of the 18th century?

    Yes republicanism is about levelling the playing field and encfranchising the common man. Certainly in a world of monarchies, empires, and aristocracy that is indeed revolutionary and radical. Even today I still look to that idea of common enfranchisement coupled with responsibility from the everyday people. Whether or not that leads naturally into socialism, well I think you and both know we’ll differ on that. I would reiterate my point about classic republicans and modern socialist regimes. Do you honestly feel that those regimes which you might term “revolutionary republics” would be satisfying to those men?

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  • By: Garibaldy Wed, 02 Jun 2010 15:53:05


    On way out, but quickly, I was saying no, and not yes on Tone. I think it narrows down the scope of his politics far too much to describe him as a nationalist. It seems to me that he was involved consciously in an international enterprise of which Irish independence was a part.

    As always, we shall agree to disagree; in answer to your question, with the attitudes of the eighteenth century, they probably wouldn’t be happy. But with the attitudes of the modern era, and with the same concerns for equality etc, I think it’s reasonable to argue that socialism – or if you prefer left politics generally – is the natural home.

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  • By: Ramzi Nohra Wed, 02 Jun 2010 15:56:08

    In reply to Ramzi Nohra 1.

    Your contributions are always interesting to read and well-crafted Garibaldy, even when I dont agree with them. You are also noteworthy on the blogosphere as never ducking a discussion.

    I hear what you are saying about nationalism and a yearning for national independence etc not being the same things. I would disagree with that, but I think we are getting down to actual semantics here, so not sure if we can say who is right or wrong.

    I must admit that when I said the party should”not act against it” (ie against breaking the connection) I had more in mind the individuals you were talking about rather than the WP as a whole.

    You mention that your aims include the creation of a secular socialist republic and that your aim is to break the connection with Britain. You think this is best done through persuasion (I think you guys were ahead of the curve on this one)

    I mean this as a genuine question but what you done to further this aspect of your aims over the past ten or fifteen years? (even to the extent of it featuring in your literature).

    I would think that not much if anything has been done. I dont have a problem with this neccessarily, but I do have a problem with a party on one hand implying it takes up Tone’s writings and aims to break the connection (sorry, over-using this phrase now) and then not actually doing anything on that issue, but instead concentrating on other issues.

    One criticism of the WP (as is found in Swan’s book) is that it got so close to the unionists by effectively becoming unionist – it didnt challenge their unionism in any meaningful way. It did no persuading.

    I dont accept that the WP were unionists (we’ve had this debate before anyway) however I fail to see any evidence it did anything on the most famous aspect of Tone’s writings.

    Again, i dont actually have a major problem with that. But its not republicanism in the Tone sense. Tone’s stuff may have been secular, it may have been egalitarian (if not socialist) but he is most famous for his striving for Irish independence.

    By the way on the growth of nationalism and its consequences after the French revolution, one could do worse than read “war of wars” by Robert Harvey.

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  • By: yourcousin Wed, 02 Jun 2010 17:23:25

    Fair enough. My point was simply that nationalism within the 18th century and up to 1848 is not the narrow chauvenism that is accedited to nationalism today (though even today I think there are valid nationalisms). I don’t see it as narrow, so much as embryonic.

    I think it’s reasonable to argue that socialism – or if you prefer left politics generally – is the natural home

    I readily agree with that. But when we say “the left in general” we are talking a great deal of ecumenical spirit between us. My problem is that at times there is an attempt to stake claim on past actions for not only big “S” Socialism, but also for a specific brand of big “SSocialism or for want of a better word orthodoxy. Not that it matters because we can make our own decisions but I doubt that Connolly (which the WP claims lineage from) would have happy to see the Russians use tanks to crush a building trades strike stemming from the implementation of piece meal work in East Berlin. Or the dynastic regimes in Cuba and North Korea etc. etc.

    We can all pay tribute to the actions of those who came before us. But we need to let them rest in their own time and not try to bring them into our current debates as if they were writing last week, specifically for us.

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  • By: Bartholomew Wed, 02 Jun 2010 19:57:01


    ‘The WP’s position is that separatism and believing in the right of a people to shape its own destiny is not the same as nationalism.’

    The definition of nationalism used by Hobsbawm is ‘a principle which holds that the political and national unit should be congruent.’ How is this different from separatism and ‘the right of a people to shape its own destiny ‘? Do you see a difference between a people and a nation?

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  • By: Garibaldy Thu, 03 Jun 2010 00:53:42

    In reply to Ramzi Nohra 1.


    I’d agree that what we have here is a matter of interpretation, rather than a question where someone can be proven right or wrong.

    As for what we have done, or continue to do to break the connection and advance persuasion. You raise the question of our literature. It’s true to see that we don’t plaster it at the top of everything we do the way other parties do. But nor is it something we hide. Just looking at the latest edition of LookLeft, there is a blurb I suppose you would call it on the Party. It talks about building a democratic, secular, socialist Ireland. If you go to the Party’s publication page

    you’ll see the extensive list of publications on republicanism and the republican tradition (and the list is incomplete). Including what was in some ways an update of The Republican Tradition, The Concept of Republicanism, written for the bicentenary of 1798.

    Transmitting our understanding of republicanism, and indeed socialism, is a part of trying to break the connection. It’s about persuading people of all religions and none that democratic, secular, socialist politics offer the best way forward for the working class across the island. At the same time, labour mustn’t wait. Class politics continues in both states in every action of the bourgeois parties – we must offer our own version focussed on the here and now as well as the long-term.

    You note the Party hasn’t had much success persuading people. I think that’s true of every party that ultimately wants an independent Ireland. I’d be interested though in hearing what it is you think we ought to be doing and aren’t in regards to this question.

    Thanks for the mention of that book.

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  • By: Garibaldy Thu, 03 Jun 2010 00:58:32

    In reply to yourcousin.


    I’d agree that a lot of nationalism in the period you are talking about was not of the variety that we talk about today. It’s partly why I am cautious about using the phrase for the timeframe under discussion. It elides things that had similarities but also a lot of differences.

    I think it’s important not to say that Wolfe Tone or Connolly would have voted this way or that on such and such an Ard Fheis motion, and to that extent I’d agree with you. I’m not someone who thinks digging out a quote from Lenin or Marx or whoever settles an argument set in the here and now. But I think it’s worth thinking about whether such and such a position can be broadly understood as standing within the tradition they were themselves part of.

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  • By: Garibaldy Thu, 03 Jun 2010 01:13:37


    A big question to which I’m sure this will be an inadequate and ill-thought out answer. But briefly, I think myself that nationalism involves not only the idea that the political and national unit should be congruent, but also that identification with the nation should be one’s primary political identification. I think this conflicts with class politics; I also think that what separates self-determination from nationalism is that it does not rule out the possibility of the uniting with other peoples, whether that involves formal political unity or close cooperation and coordinated action for progressive goals. Nationalism seems to me to rule out the former at least. In Irish terms, I suppose my own view would be that separatism remains a key aspect while there is a need to complete the transition to an independent republic, but once that independence has been achieved, I would have no objection to greater cooperation with others in the right circumstances. Separatism isn’t meant to mean isolationism.

    As for whether there is a difference between a people and a nation. I suppose that’s a complex question, relating to language usage as well as conceptualisation. At bottom, I suppose when I use the word people -especially when discussing a country’s internal politics – I mean what used to be called the menu peuple, the popular classes or the lowers orders. The ordinary working people of a country. So when I refer to the rights of peoples to self-determination I suppose I am thinking of the rights of the working people of countries to determine their own future. I think this is what the KKE meant with its slogan, “Peoples of Europe, Rise Up!”

    But equally, I probably do sometimes use people when nation would serve the same purpose. It’s something I need to think more about, as this answer doubtless makes clear.

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  • By: Ramzi Nohra Thu, 03 Jun 2010 08:54:04

    In reply to Ramzi Nohra 1.

    thanks for the response G.

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  • By: Bartholomew Fri, 04 Jun 2010 13:03:35

    Thanks Garibaldy. That doesn’t strike me as ill-thought out at all, but very persuasive about identification and self-determination. As for ‘a people’, ‘the people’, ‘a nation’, and now ‘a country’, I’ll have to think hard about those myself too.

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